From time immemorial dancing has been associated with various celebrations – from the tribal dances carried out around bonfires to the exquisite waltzes performed at high society events. As such, it should come to no surprise that each country has a selection of folk dances native to the region. History knows a plethora of Slavic folk dances, which have withstood the tests of time and have survived for centuries.
It’s practically impossible to sum them all up without making a mile long list, so here are just five of the most well-known Slavic folk dances from near and far.
Dating back to the early 1800s this Czech dance has its numerous variations across Slavic and non-Slavic countries alike. The original polka dance steps are contributed to a young girl named Anna Slezáková, who came up with her own repertoire for an old folk song. Her improvised steps were recorded and altered by local music teachers, who carried them all the way to ballrooms in Prague. Shortly after the dance gained popularity in the Czech Republic, it spread to Vienna and then to Paris. Nowadays there’s an abundance of different variations of polka dances in dozens of countries located in Europe, Scandinavia, Latin America and the US.
Mazurka, also called mazurek, is a traditional Polish folk dance, which is popular all over the globe. Chopin’s mazurka compositions significantly helped popularize the steps outside of his native Poland and during the 19th century the mazurka became a favorable dance for ballrooms on American and European territories. The mazurka dance was originally meant to be performed by dancers who constantly exchanged their partners in four and eight couples. This style gave the choreography more depth and movement, but other variations of it, including a solo one, were eventually introduced to the scene.
Another Polish folk dance, which gained worldwide popularity through the centuries, is the polonez, also known as polonaise. Chopin’s polonez compositions influenced numerous other acclaimed composers to include the polonez verses in their works. Tchaikovsky, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini, Schubert, Liszt, Rimsky-Korsakov and Schumann have all published polonez pieces. Even nowadays the polonez steps are an irreplaceable part of the high school studniowka – the Polish senior prom for last-year high school students.
4. Horo/ Oro/ Kolo
The popular Slavic circle dance known as kolo, horo or kolo is a folk dance, which is predominant in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Romania, Moldova and Montenegro. Coming in countless styles, tempos and meters, the horo dance is widely varied. What truly makes horo dancing unique is that it includes an ensemble of dancers who perform in a circle, most commonly holding hands. Solo dancers may be present depending on the choreography, but these types of circle dances became popular for being performed by the common masses at festivals, weddings and other types of public gatherings rather than by the highlife socialites at ballrooms, unlike the previous three dances.
5. The squat dance
The squat dance, which Slavs and non-Slavs alike refer to as “that Russian squat dance” is actually not Russian and is merely a series of dance steps, which are called prisyadka. The dance on its own is an old Ukrainian folk dance, but the squatting and the kicks have been adapted by Russians for numerous Russian folk dances. These squats can be incorporated in the popular prisyadka, as well as in other similar step sequences. They are usually carried out by male dancers since back in the days the furious stomping, squatting and jumping were perceived as rather unladylike and not gracious enough to be included in any female parts of folk dance choreography, which featured more exquisite steps.